A Jack-of-All-Trades Super-wide Lens
The Tokina AT-X 17-35mm for full frame isn’t a new lens but its often overlooked because its a constant f/4 instead of f2.8 lens. Unlike the faster lenses like the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 lens, you can use 82mm filter on the 17-35mm while no standard filter options exist for the 16-28.
Another advantage is the 17-35 is a smaller full frame super-wide that is lighter and much easier to pack for traveling. Let's face up to the fact that full frame lenses are large and heavy and you may not always need a fast aperture while you may need compactness or lighter weight. This is especially true if you are the type of photographer that likes to load everything on your back and walk or hike all day. If you travel a lot, this lens is an excellent choice.
Handling and Ergonomics
The AT-X 17-35mm is just 3.7 (94mm) inches long and weighs 21 oz (600g) its feels good and balances well on a full frame DSLR like the Nikon D750. The lens has Tokina signature “One Touch Focus Clutch” mechanism, to switch the lens from AF to MF just pull the manual focusing ring back towards the camera to disengage the AF and when you want to return to AF push the focusing ring forward to engage it. Manual focusing is smooth and not heavily damped so the focusing ring moves easily but does not feel loose, it just has a natural feel. The focus ring turns about 90 degrees to go from the closest focusing distance of 11 inches (0.28m) to infinity.
Auto focus it quick and accurate but it will not be wining any speed awards. Super-fast AF generally isn’t usually required for subjects that people shoot with super-wide angle lenses of this kind anyway. For a lot of my shooting with super-wide lenses the camera is locked down on a tripod for a long exposures so AF speed is not critical.
The Tokina AT-X 17-35mm lens is a sharp lens and like any super-wide its sharper in the center than on the edges. Sharp enough to make large prints from full-res 24 megapixel files. Sharp enough to shoot cactus and count all the individual spins. Like most lenses of its class it is sharper in the center than at the edges and stopping down about 2 stops improves things. The lenses critical aperture seems to be about f/9.0 which is just over 2 stops down from wide open. Critical aperture, the aperture at which any lens is the sharpest, is usually somewhere between 2 and 3 stops down from wide open.
There is some slight vignetting at the corners wide open and some very slight purple fringing but its not usual with a super-wide and I found both to be easily corrected in post. In fact in light-room just clicking the “Remove CA” check box usually eliminated any purple fringe.
The 17-35 is well corrected without much linear distortion and it can be used for architectural photography. This is a shot of the original 1908 Hamburg & Sons/May Company building that was once the largest department store west of the Mississippi River is now being renovated to be the California Broadway Trade Center. The Tokina 17-35 keeps the all lines straight and the over all picture is sharp. The picture was shot at f/8 to increase sharpness and keep everything in focus. Below is the facade of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum.
Never underestimate the impact of a super-wide lens that can focus close. You can take something small and fill the frame with it. As mentioned earlier The 17-35mm lens has good close focus of just 11 inched (0.28m) This cactus plant is rally only 8 inches tall but because the lens can focus so close it dominates the landscape where you would barely notice it walking by.
While f/4.0 is not an idea aperture for astro-photography, the 17-35 does pretty well when out shooting where there is a little moonlight present as there was in the photo from the Geminids Meteor shower. According to the 500 rule, a 17mm lens on a full frame camera means you can set an exposure as long as 30 seconds (actually 29.42 but how’s counting) without getting start trails. In reality you should probably back it down to 25 seconds but that is still a lot of light gathering time to take in so many stars. I got this lens after the Milky Way Galaxy season ended but I am looking forward to trying it out when the core returns to the night sky at the end of February.
So yes, for sure this is a Jack-of-all-trades lens. I like it a lot. It does everything it does very well and for an excellent price. This value of this lens is in what it does well verse the cost, which is lower than most other AF full frame super-wide zooms All things considered its an easy lens to recommend so if you are on a budget, seriously check it out.
The 720 Eastbound from Downtown LA